Stop replacing a risen Lord with flawed messiahs

Watching the stone seal Jesus’s tomb must have been devastating to those who believed in Him. In that moment, who among them could believe Jesus’s prediction that he would overcome the grave? Lately, many of us who follow Jesus have experienced the pain of placing our faith in leaders who fail us. From our churches to the halls of Congress, Christians must again put our faith in a risen Lord instead of failed messiahs. 

Today’s Christians want the same thing as every one of Jesus’s original followers. We want a savior to right a broken world. For too many of us, we look for another messiah as if the one we claim to follow isn’t enough. The results are painfully predictable. 

When I read about Ravi Zacharias’s sexual misconduct, I was crestfallen. Over the years, I listened to him cogently defend the Christian faith. Meanwhile, he abused massage therapists in America and around the world. One victim claimed she was warned to keep her mouth shut or “she would be responsible for the ‘millions of souls’ whose salvation would be lost if his reputation was damaged.” It wasn’t just a mistake but a pattern and practice rejecting the faith he claimed. And yet this was the same man whose apologist approach I emulated. 

Recently, David and Nancy French chronicled a decade of sexual abuse at Kanakuk Kamps, one of the world’s largest Christian camps. Many of my childhood friends attended the camp outside of Branson, Missouri. Similar to Zachrias’s cautionary tale, Kanakuk ministry leadership raised the profile of Pete Newman to messianic levels while ignoring glaring red flags about his conduct and character that led to tragic abuses of trusting campers. Newman is now serving a prison term of two life sentences, plus 30 years. 

Many Christians reach for fill-in messiahs in the political space as well. Like the Israelites clamoring for a king against the prophet Samuel’s warnings, we look for a political leader to go ahead of us and fight our battles. Instead of trusting God’s ability to accomplish his purposes independent of politics, we worship and adore elected officials who are actually our servants. Some of Jesus’s followers made the same mistake of hoping he too would be a political success and overthrow the Romans. It was and remains a benighted view of God’s redemptive goals. 

It’s easy to see where preachers, personalities, or politicians let us down. Perhaps the most relevant example of worshipping other people is closer to home. After the tornado sirens blared a few weeks ago, my oldest son struggled to sleep. “Dad, would you mind just staying up for a while?”, he asked. “Then I think I could go to bed.” Some part of him believed I was superhuman enough to stare down a tornado. Hopefully our parents are worthy of our affection, but they’re rarely able to deliver us from the literal and figurative storms in our lives. 

Every flawed leader has one thing in common: They’re just like us. When we elevate humans to god-like status, they’re bound to leave us unsatisfied. Zacharias was an excellent apologist who was personally broken. Newman undoubtedly had a positive impact on some campers while destroying the lives of others. Countless politicians develop excellent policies and simultaneously engage in destructive personal behavior.

Tragedy occurs when those closest to such leaders lose the ability to hold them accountable. When we sacrifice personal character, integrity, and even common sense to keep our messianic hopes alive, we pay a steep price. 

While most of us won’t visit such ethical extremes or endure public scrutiny, we know what it is to be flawed; we know what it is to struggle. That awareness indicates our need for a savior in the first place. The need is human; the answer is divine. If we can’t redeem ourselves, why should we expect people similar to us to have such capacity? It’s a fool’s errand. 

We can and should depend on other people. We’re human beings who need each other. Yes, we’ll disappoint. Yes, we’ll have moral failings. But we can also forgive. We have the capacity to love deeply. It’s why we live life together, yet it’s the precise reason we shouldn’t elevate individuals among us as objects of worship. 

Easter is the Christian celebration of the only messiah the tomb couldn’t hold. That’s a supernatural difference from purported saviors who came before Him and those who have come after. For each of us who claims to follow Jesus, we’ve found the savior. We can stop looking. We need no replacements or additions. He is risen. He is risen indeed.

Cameron Smith is CEO of the Triptych Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The Triptych Foundation promotes a virtuous society through investments in socially impactful media and business. He was recently executive director of the Republican Policy Committee in the United States House of Representatives. You can reach him at

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